Little League Lessons of Defeat & Resiliency

We came close. We played tough. We won out over every team but one. We probably fit most of the traditional runner-up type sports’ clichés. But in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” And I’m good with that.

The Little League baseball team that my son played on and I coached made it to the Majors’ division championship game in June, after a 17-game season and playoffs in which we won three games in seven days. In the championship final, our team was up 5-3 in the bottom of the last inning, with 2 outs. One walk and a couple of fielding errors later, and we had lost it all.

The kids – especially my son who was pitching – and fans were in disbelief, visibly shaken by what felt like our entire season having slipped away in just a couple of minutes. In our traditional post-game regroup with coaches and players, we talked about how awesome it was to make it to the championship game, which perhaps in the moment fell on deaf ears, but also about resiliency. Knowing this would hurt for a bit, we wanted the kids to hear that it’s okay to be upset in the moment, and to think about the loss. But at some point soon, it’s important to take the lessons learned and think about what’s next.

The next day, I shared some of my own athletic and business losses with my son. You may think it’s as good as done or won, and then poof, it crumbles. But the thing is, it’s usually not “poof.” There is almost always some underlying issue that can no longer hide. If there’s a weakness, it will be exposed in those critical moments, whether it’s in sports or in business. Our baseball team had that underlying issue: our defense. All season, we led the league in runs scored, but also in runs allowed. We recognized the problem during the season, and spent hours practicing defense. We improved, but not enough.

So what do we take from this? The power of resiliency. I’ve talked before about how, if you’ve instilled and practiced your fundamentals and coached to the growth mindset, the team (or the individual) will handle adversity and recover. And we did. Many from our Little League team also play together on a summer club baseball team. Not surprisingly, we run a lot of defensive drills in practice. And sure enough, in a tournament game just two weeks later, we were up by a run in the last inning with 2 outs, a runner on 3rd and my son on the mound. Kids, parents, coaches (myself included) were having angst-ridden flashbacks! But this time, we made a solid defensive play and closed it out for the win. The players showed their resiliency and maturity in the situation, not falling apart. I asked my son after the game what was going through his mind, and he said he was determined to not let it end the same way the championship game had. He didn’t like how that had felt.

If you have a chance to coach or be involved in youth sports, I highly recommend it, especially if your kids play. For me, it’s been about getting to know each other better, seeing how we all deal with the highs and the lows, and about shared experiences. It’s been amazing to see the kids grow, improve and develop their own belief in values like resiliency. Hopefully these early experiences get them ready for whatever comes at them down the road, and the belief that whether it’s a success or a defeat, they can learn something from it and keep moving right along.

— Jeff

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